No. 64 a special one for Hurdle
Manager pays tribute to deceased friend on lineup card
DENVER -- When manager Clint Hurdle fills out the Colorado lineup card on Saturday night for Game 3 of the World Series, his Rockies trying to break into the win column, he'll write the familiar 64 near the top and circle it."It's not magic -- it's meaningful, is what it is for me," Hurdle said. "It's very meaningful." You can see it in his eyes, feel it in his words. No walk-off grand slam will ever move Hurdle the way this boy did. His name was Kyle Blakeman. He was 13, living a typical young teen's life in a Denver suburb known as Highlands Ranch, when his world was turned upside down -- and serendipity brought him into Hurdle's life. A Blakeman family friend bumped into Hurdle at a market in 2005 after Kyle had been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer identified as Renal Medullary Carcinoma. The woman, Linda Techentien, told the Rockies' manager all about young Kyle's love of sports -- and especially of Hurdle's team. Then she mentioned his affliction, how he was bravely coping while keeping abreast of the Rockies' fortunes. Was there something the team might be able to do to lift his spirits? "Sure," Hurdle said, in that friendly, engaging manner of his. He'd be happy to throw together some Rockies memorabilia for the boy. But Hurdle wouldn't stop there. He asked for the names of Kyle's parents and their phone number. Joanne Blakeman, Kyle's mother, was amazed when the famous local sports figure called the next day. It was the start of a friendship that would alter Hurdle's life and bring a meaningful number -- 64 -- into the Rockies' world. This was Kyle's football number -- playing baseball, he'd had multiple numbers. Making the baseball team at ThunderRidge High had been his big dream, and it was fulfilled after the cancer went into remission in the spring of 2006. After having a kidney removed and undergoing chemotherapy and stem cell treatments, he was able to run and play freely again. About 100 cases of this cancer have been confirmed worldwide, making it as mysterious as it is rare. It first attacks the kidneys. Kyle's condition began deteriorating this past summer, and by July, he was hospitalized. When Hurdle visited Kyle on Aug. 24 and asked for a number that meant something special, the boy volunteered 64. The Rockies won with an improbable late comeback that night against Washington, with Matt Holliday delivering a dramatic two-run homer. Hurdle took the lineup card with the 64 along with his game notes to the hospital, handing it all over to a beaming Kyle. Four days later, Kyle succumbed. He was 15. As his family and friends mourned his passing, Kyle's Rockies went on to claim the National League Wild Card with a fantastic finish. Winning 21 of 22 games from Sept. 16 through the NLCS, the Rockies awarded Colorado its first Fall Classic. During a World Series press conference in Boston, the kind normally littered with clichés and discussions of disciplined hitting and quality strikes thrown to good locations, Hurdle was asked about the significance of No. 64. The words flowed freely and emotionally, with Hurdle recreating the profound scene at the hospital. "I said, `I feel it coming, but I need a little something,'" Hurdle said. "And he kind of looked at me like, `What do you want from me?' I said, `Do you have a number, something I can play with? I don't know how I'm going to use it.' "He said, 'My baseball number changes, but my favorite football number has always been 64.' I didn't know what I was going to do with it.
"We ended up playing the Nationals, and I wrote it at the top of the lineup card. We weren't really in the game, but we scored a handful of runs off Chad Cordero in the bottom of the ninth in a hurry, and we won the game."I told him I was going to put it on the lineup card and bring it back to the hospital. Now I get back to the hospital at 11:15, 11:30. Everybody is waiting for me. "Everybody knew we were going to win but me. There's Mom and Dad, and there's Kyle, and they're just laughing, like, `Did you ever not expect something good to happen?'" Hurdle knows it takes hits and runs -- commodities in short supply for the Rockies in Boston -- along with quality pitching and defense to win games. It's all about preparation, controlling adrenaline, execution. Fire-and-brimstone Knute Rockne speeches don't generally apply, unless Tommy Lasorda is involved. Hurdle, old school to the bone, has kept his thoughts about Kyle and their relationship private until recently, when it became public knowledge. The Rockies' ace, Jeff Francis, didn't know about it until recently. Neither did Walt Weiss, former Major League star turned special assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd and all-purpose infield instructor. Knowing Hurdle as they do, as a man actively involved in community and causes, Francis and Weiss found Hurdle's actions with Kyle Blakeman perfectly in character. "There's a soft spot in him for helping people," Francis said. "We've done all kinds of hospital visits, soup kitchens, things like that. He's always there, always lending a helping hand. "He's a family man, first and foremost, and it's evident in everything he does. He's done great things for the team and great things for the community. We've kind of grown together, us as a young team and him as a young manager." Weiss has known Hurdle for years as a shoot-from-the-hip guy, one who wears his heart on his sleeve. "That's just how he is," Weiss said. "He's at a point in life where he's got a great perspective on things. "What you see is what you get with Clint. You always know where you stand with him. It's a good personality for a man in his position, and it's refreshing."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.